January 14, 1998
For a second straight day, Iraq refused to cooperate with a U.N. weapons inspection team. Iraq's actions resulted in an unanimous condemnation by the members of the United Nations Security Council. Jim Lehrer talks with Nizar Hamdoon, Iraq's ambassador to the U.N., about the ongoing dispute between his country and the international community.
JIM LEHRER: Iraq and the U.N. weapons inspectors. Last night we spoke to the head of the inspection commission, Richard Butler. Tonight we get the other side from Iraq's Ambassador to the United Nations, Nizar Hamdoon. Mr. Ambassador, welcome.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
January 13, 1998
Richard Butler discusses the latest disagreement with Iraq.
December 18, 1997
Richard Butler discusses Iraq's continued defiance of U.N. inspections.
December 1, 1997
Margaret Warner leads a discussion on the proposals to ease the impact of international sanctions on Iraq.
November 25, 1997
Is Saddam Hussein illegally hiding weapons throughout Iraq?
What's the best way to deal with Iraq?
November 20, 1997
U.N. Ambassador Richardson on the possible resolution of the Iraq crisis.
November 17, 1997
Arab perspectives on the Iraqi crisis.
November 14, 1997
Sandy Berger the National Security Adviser, discusses the Iraqi crisis.
November 13, 1997
Newsmaker interview with Deputy PM Aziz who defends his country's expulsion of U.N. weapons inspectors.
November 12, 1997
U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson discusses the Security Council's vote to impose stricter sanctions on Iraq.
November 11, 1997
Four foreign policy experts debate how best to deal with Saddam Hussein.
November 10, 1997
Defense Sec. Cohen discusses the situation with Iraq.
November 6, 1997
The chief U.N. arms inspector discusses Saddam's latest moves.
November 3, 1997
U.N. Ambassador Richardson discusses tensions between the U.S. and Iraq.
October 9, 1997
Sec. Cohen issues a stern warning to Saddam Hussein.
Online Forum: 1996:
The plight of the Kurds in Northern Iraq.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Middle East.
Yahoo's coverage of the Iraq-U.N. standoff.
NIZAR HAMDOON, U.N. Ambassador, Iraq: Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: The U.N. Security Council resolution passed today unanimously says Iraq's behavior is unacceptable. What's your reaction to that, sir?
NIZAR HAMDOON: First of all, this is not a resolution, Jim. This is a presidential statement, which does not usually take a vote but takes kind of a consensus between the 15 members. So it doesn't necessarily reflect exactly the way most of the--what some of the council members think about the situation. There are a good number of council members who have agreed with us that the nature of the teams of UNSCOM will have to be diversified, will have to be more of a multinational character. And this is the point that we are stressing at this time. We are not saying that Iraq should dictate the composition of the team, but in the same time we cannot accept this unprecedented composition of this particular team, which has never happened before, to see a team that is heavily dominated by the Americans and the Brits.
JIM LEHRER: What's the problem with that?
NIZAR HAMDOON: Well, given the--policy of the United States, of the United Kingdom, Iraq thinks that such teams are only going to create more suspicions, going to create tensions, and problems.
JIM LEHRER: Is it your position that no American technician could be professional and fair to Iraq?
Amb. Hamdoon: "And we all know about the plans the U.S. Government has for Iraq to overthrow the regime and do this and that."
NIZAR HAMDOON: No. What we are saying, obviously, I mean, we have accepted the Americans before--heads of teams, members of teams--but when the team is heavily dominated the way this team was, then probably the activities of that team will not be balanced. It could be influenced by some--we don't know exactly the backgrounds of those Americans. Some of them do represent their government, or they were nominated by their governments. And we all know about the plans the U.S. Government has for Iraq to overthrow the regime and do this and that. For that reason we cannot accept.
JIM LEHRER: You have--your government yesterday charged that Scott Ritter, who is the head of this team, as a spy. Do you believe that?
NIZAR HAMDOON: I don't think that the issue right now is the issue of spying. The issue here is to have a balanced composition. Ritter, himself, headed some of the teams in the past. And he was allowed into many of the sites. We don't see a problem in dealing with an individual if the overall composition of the team is balanced.
JIM LEHRER: So you no longer believe Scott Ritter is a spy?
NIZAR HAMDOON: He is not an issue right now.
JIM LEHRER: I see. Now, what Richard Butler said on our program last night was that there are 44 inspectors involved in this team. Only 11 of them are--there are 17 nationalities represented--only 11 of them are Americans.
Looking for balance.
NIZAR HAMDOON: That's not true. The team that was sent to Iraq consisted of 16 people. Only four were added in Baghdad from the people who were already in Baghdad--one Jordanian translator, one American expert, and two French. One of them was an IAEA expert. So they did not significantly change the nature of the team of those Americans and the British which were fourteen against two or three other nationalities.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Mr. Butler said just the opposite on this program. He said that your charge that you just repeated, which had been said by your government yesterday, is just not true.
NIZAR HAMDOON: We have provided in details all these facts to the Security Council in a letter. But what could we do if nobody is ready to take what we are saying as the truth? We have asked the council if they want somebody who could check; they could send a couple of people just to verify, to see where the truth lies.
JIM LEHRER: Are you concerned, Mr. Ambassador, that the more you all continue to object on the composition of these teams, the more it may appear to the outside world that you have something really to hide?
NIZAR HAMDOON: Well, I don't think so. I think the majority of the international public opinion now really believe that this whole thing has dragged on for a long time, and that some solution will have to be found. We have done all what we could do to prove the destruction of the workers that we have destroyed. The missile fire was a good example of a couple of accusations of all sorts, and eventually by the technical work that was done, the commission now is convinced that the whole Iraq missile program is over.
JIM LEHRER: Can you state categorically, sir, that the Iraqi government no longer possesses any weapons of mass destruction?
NIZAR HAMDOON: Yes, I could have stated that categorically. We don't have any such stuff anymore.
JIM LEHRER: Then what difference does it make who the inspectors are to go in there and confirm that if you have nothing to hide? Why not just let 'em go in there, Americans or whoever, and come out and say, okay, it's fine, it's over, and let's get on with it?
The issue of sanctions.
NIZAR HAMDOON: Well, this is a vacuum, Jim. It's not happening the first time, or for the first year. The Iraqis are getting frustrated because of the continuation of the sanctions, and we are on the seventh year of this process, and it doesn't look that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. This is what has led us to these reactions. It's not that they are just starting to do this job, you see.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, you don't think that an American inspector or a British inspector would have the credibility--I mean, if an American inspector went in there and said, hey, the Iraqis are telling the truth, there are no weapons of mass destruction, you don't think they would have credibility, more credibility say than somebody else?
NIZAR HAMDOON: No. I don't think it's the question of the persons per se. There are lots of respectable American experts. I mean, we obviously know that. But given the policy of the United States and given this special relationship between the U.S. being the biggest power of the Security Council and the special commission--some people who could have been recruited that will serve the purpose of the United States Government and therefore do whatever what could harm the Iraqi cause.
JIM LEHRER: And so you believe that the United States as a matter of policy does not want these sanctions lifted and would--in other words--manipulate the inspection process to keep that from happening?
NIZAR HAMDOON: Oh, yes, Jim. If we look into many statements of Madam Albright and many others during the last couple of years, they sometimes say it clearly, that they are not going to lift the sanctions even if the special commission is to certify the removal and render harmless of all Iraqi programs. They have said that.
JIM LEHRER: What would you say to those who say, hey, well, now, look here now, there was a war in 1991; the United States provided 80 percent of the personnel and the equipment for that war, and their side won, the coalition won, why wouldn't the United States have the right to have a major role in determining whether or not Iraq still had weapons of mass destruction?
NIZAR HAMDOON: Well, that's another issue, Jim. The war is something, and the United Nations Security Council resolutions are something else. Iraq here is abiding by the United Nations Security Council, and most resolutions will have to be implemented accurately, professionally, without any political interpretation.
JIM LEHRER: But it certainly relates to the war because there wouldn't be sanctions if there hadn't been the war in '91. So I mean, the two are definitely related, are they not?
NIZAR HAMDOON: They are related in sequence and in the outcome of the war, but, again, we have to look to it and to most of the international community, look to the resolutions as a product of the Security Council, and that the United Nations should be sincere in implementing them in a fair and in a just way.
JIM LEHRER: What is your reaction to Amb. Richardson's remark today, which we had in the News Summary a moment ago--I'm sure you heard it--that military--the military option cannot be ruled out if this continues to escalate?
The military option.
NIZAR HAMDOON: Well, the American officials have never ruled out the military option. They have resorted to that a few years ago many times. But at this point, I think, Jim, it will be difficult for them. It won't be easy for the United States to do that, given the reluctance of most of the international powers and of the regional powers, including some close friends to the United States. The reluctance for them to see any bombing is not something that the United States could live with easily, you see.
JIM LEHRER: In other words, you are--your government is banking on the fact that the U.S. would not go it alone on this, is that correct?
NIZAR HAMDOON: No. What I'm saying, that won't be as easy as it was a couple of years ago, so I don't think we have to expect anything immediately.
JIM LEHRER: All right. So what should we expect immediately? Today, the team--headed by Scott Ritter--was turned back again. Mr. Butler says it's unlikely they're going to try again tomorrow. He's coming to see Tariq Aziz and others in Baghdad. How is this thing going to get resolved, Mr. Ambassador? You've been in the middle of it there at the U.N..
NIZAR HAMDOON: Well, we're trying our best to figure out ways of getting along with Mr. Butler on the question of the composition of the teams, on the question of the evaluation, meetings, technical evaluation meetings, which are going to take place in Baghdad in February, things of that nature to try to finish up the job, you see.
JIM LEHRER: Do you think Mr. Butler is going about this in a fair and straight way from an Iraqi point of view?
NIZAR HAMDOON: Up till now, no. I mean, the feeling in Baghdad, that is not being just to us.
JIM LEHRER: You think he might change? Do you want him to change? Do you want him gone? I mean, is that a problem? Is he a problem?
NIZAR HAMDOON: I don't think the problem is a person. The problem is in the system and in the type of pressure that the United States is putting on Mr. Butler and maybe on others.
JIM LEHRER: But he's an Australian.
NIZAR HAMDOON: I know.
JIM LEHRER: But you think he answers to the U.S. Government?
NIZAR HAMDOON: I'm not suggesting anything. I don't like to evaluate any person at this point. My job is not to do that, but to address the policy.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Ambassador, thank you very much for being with us.